Mumbai City FC have made the 18-hour long and 3000+ miles trip to the town of Namangan in eastern Uzbekistan for their first game on the road in the 2023-24 AFC Champions League against Uzbek side PFC Navbahor at the Markaziy Stadium with action kicking off at 7 PM UZT (7:30 PM IST).
The Islanders coming into matchday 2 of the Champions League with sights set continuing the strong start made in the ISL by Des Buckingham’s side. Despite dominating proceedings, Mumbai City went down to Iranian side Nassaji Mazandaran in Pune but the Islanders bounced back after picking up 4 points out of 6 from two away games against NorthEast United and Odisha FC.
Navabhor, who are 20 games into their Uzbekistan Super League campaign and sit in second place, made waves in the opening matchday of the ACL after the 2022 USL runners-up nearly recorded a result against Saudi giants Al Hilal but conceded deep into stoppage time to come away with a point from Riyadh.
Speaking to the media in Namangan ahead of today’s outing at the Markaziy Stadium, Des Buckingham highlighted the challenge his side will be up against the hosts and local favourites in Navbahor. Buckingham said, “It's not a team that we would normally look at, coming from our league, but as soon as the (group stage) draw was made, we've spent as much time as possible not just looking at this team but the other two in our group. We know Navbahor is a strong team that historically has done very well in their own league and finished the second last year and I think they’re sitting on second again. They're not a team that is successful for just one season, they're one that can continually challenge. They've got a coach that is very well known in this league and has coached at many of the clubs. He knows the league, he knows the players and I think you can see that within the game, the way the team plays, how well they play and combine which is great for this club.”
Rostyn Griffiths, who spent a year playing at Uzbek club Pakhtakor in 2017-18, echoed Buckingham’s sentiments on the potential threat Navbhor can pose to the Islanders. “When I was playing in Uzbekistan with Pakhtakor, Navbahor was always a very physically strong team and to play here was difficult. The fans and the atmosphere were always very noisy and loud. Since then, new players have come in, some from Pakhtakor as well,” said the Islanders’ Aussie defender.
He added, “We know that they are going to be a very strong team. We've watched the games, especially against Al Hilal. They were very unlucky not to win that game. We're expecting a strong game. I remember a few of the players. They're all technically very good national team players and obviously well-coached, so we're expecting a tough game. It's been tough to get here, been a tough long journey and I’m looking forward to training today and yeah, expecting a good performance for my team tomorrow.”
Despite a less than ideal result on matchday 1 against Nassaji, Des Buckingham was pleased with his side’s performance measures and highlighted the difference between clubs and different leagues across Asia. “The restructuring of the AFC Champions League was done to bring alignment across Asia with the league structures but there are still some differences. For example, our first game of the season was a Champions League game, against a team that already had played 5 league games. Similarly, tomorrow we play against a team that has played 20 league games compared to our two league games which we’ve just come from”, said Buckingham.
The 38-year-old Englishman added, “The pleasing thing was that despite the loss in the last game, we had our internal performance measures and they were the highest measures we’ve ever had against any ACL team, including the ones from last season when we won two games. The more competitive games we play, the stronger we’ll get – we saw that in the ISL last season too – and we hope that we are in a much better position to finish off the moves we created in our first ACL game.”
Where To Watch
The game will kick off at 7:30 PM IST today, 3rd of October 2023 and will be broadcasted on Sports 18 and Fancode. For our global fans, you follow all the action LIVE on our official Twitter account - @MumbaiCityFC.